The Offshore Imperative

The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America (Texas A&M, 2007)

2008 Geosciences in the Media award, presented by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, “given to a person in recognition of notable journalistic achievement in any medium which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources, or the technology of oil and gas exploration.”

Texas A&M University Press

After World War II, the discovery and production of onshore oil in the United States faced decline. As a result, offshore prospects in the Gulf of Mexico took on new strategic value. Shell Oil Company pioneered many of the early moves offshore and continues to lead the way into “deepwater.”  This study, the result of four years of research and 75 oral histories, is the first to tell the modern history of Shell Oil, the U.S. subsidiary of Royal-Dutch Shell.  Drawing on interviews with Shell retirees and many other sources, it relates how the imagination, talent, and hard work of personnel at all levels shaped the evolution of the company. The narrative also covers important aspects of Shell Oil’s corporate evolution, but the company’s pioneering steps into the deepwater fields of the Gulf of Mexico are its signature achievement. This book demonstrates that engineers did not suddenly create methods for finding and producing oil and gas from astounding water depths. Rather, they built on a half-century of accumulated knowledge and improvements to technical systems.

Shell Oil’s story is unique, but it also illuminates the modern history of the petroleum industry.  It offers a starting point for examining the understudied topics of strategic decision-making, scientific research, management of technology, and corporate organization and culture within modern oil companies, as well as how these activities applied to offshore development.

“Priest tells a rich story of technological evolution, some of it plodding by solving small problems and fixing mistakes, and some of encompassing breathtaking breakthroughs – even scientific epiphanies.”
Richard Vietor of the Harvard Business School in Technology & Culture

“A model book to present to MBA students the way the natural resource industry works . . . terrific in showing how decisions are made, both strategic and tactical . . . . This is not a book about a big company, it is a book about the people working in a big company.”
Peter Rose, former president of the Association of American Petroleum Geologists

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